Movie theaters in the Middle Kingdom have been shuttered since Jan. 23 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Cinemas in China, the world’s second-biggest theatrical film market, were given the official greenlight Thursday to resume business beginning July 20.
The China Film Administration put out the notice around midday in Beijing, sparking instant celebration throughout the country’s filmmaking community. Movie theaters in the Middle Kingdom have been shuttered since Jan. 23 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The nearly six months of closure have plunged many studios and exhibition companies into severe financial duress, if not bankruptcy.
Not all movie theaters in China will be opening at once, however. The Film Administration’s directive says that theaters in areas at “low-risk” for coronavirus infection will be permitted to “resume business July 20 in an orderly manner,” but multiplexes in “middle and high-risk regions must remain temporarily closed.” The wording of the notice suggested that provincial party leaders will be responsible for assessing their own region’s risk level. It was unclear what thresholds, or criteria, would be used to define risk levels.
An array of “epidemic control measures” must be followed by all cinemas that resume business. The strictness of the safety measures suggests that China’s battered exhibition sector could be slow to bounce back even if demand from the public proves high. The new rules include a 30 percent cap on seating capacity and a 50 percent reduction from the usual number of screenings held per day. Customers will have their temperature checked at the door, masks will be mandatory and sanitization carried out assiduously. Other requirements range from the financially onerous to slightly odd, such as a ban on all concession sales and a rule requiring that any film shown must be no longer than two hours. All tickets must be sold in advance through contactless digital platforms.
With the permission to reopen given just days in advance of the start date, it wasn’t immediately clear what movies multiplexes in regions designated “low-risk” would have at their disposal to screen on Monday. Exhibitors contacted by The Hollywood Reporter Thursday afternoon said they anticipated initially screening classic films and holdover titles that were approved for release prior to the pandemic.
A raft of Hollywood titles were approved in early January but didn’t make it to the screen before the pandemic shuttered theaters. They included several Oscar-nominated movies, such as Little Women, 1917, Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story, as well as a few commercial tentpoles, like Sonic the Hedgehog and Bad Boys for Life.